Armed with only a general equivalency diploma and a desire to work, 21-year-old Marvin McCants had few options for gainful employment in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.
Even before the storm washed away much of his eastern New Orleans community, McCants had worked “hit and miss” jobs in the fast food business and as a “hopper” on a garbage truck.
“It was nothing real stable where I could make a decent living,” he said.
Luckily, McCants heard about the new Gulf Coast Construction Careers Center that was established by the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department in eastern New Orleans shortly after the hurricane.
He signed up for the four-week introductory training program in 2009, and has been gainfully employed for the past four years as an apprentice. Today, he is a mechanic in the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Local 53. McCants earns more than $22 per hour, has health benefits and a pension.
“It makes me feel good that I am able to support my son (Marvin Jr., five months) without any worries about where I am going to get money to buy diapers or baby food,” he said. “I am happy that I can raise my son the way I want to raise him and give him opportunities.”
When McCants initially joined the training program, he thought he would become an electrician. Then Andy O’Brien, business agent and administrator for the apprenticeship program of the insulator’s Local 53 made a presentation to his class, and McCants knew that was the trade for him.
Following the four-week introductory training, McCants interviewed with O’Brien and became an apprentice, working for Eagle Insulations, LLC of New Orleans.
“I worked for Eagle in the day and went to school one night a week from 6-10,” McCants said. “I have been steadily employed the past four years and have had a pay increase every year.”
Without the help of G4C (the nickname locals gave the now-defunct training program), McCants said he has no idea where he would be today. “I would just be looking for work, like before, I guess. Who knows? I’m glad I got introduced to G4C and it introduced me to the different trades.”
McCants’ success as an “inner city kid” who made good is admirable, O’Brien said, particularly considering “the disarray our community was in after Katrina.”
“God only knows what they were making prior to Katrina,” O’Brien added. Non-union workers in the same field earn anywhere from $10 per hour to $22 an hour, O’Brien said, but with no benefits. “Even though they are making one thing one day, they could go in to work and get their wages cut,” O’Brien said. “In the union, we don’t go backwards. Plus, we have retirement and health benefits.”
Currently, McCants is working on a complete renovation and addition to Monroe Hall on the campus of Loyola University in New Orleans, where Eagle is a subcontractor to Gallo Mechanical, LLC of Metairie, La.
Stephen LeBlanc, Eagle’s superintendent/foreman on the job, describes McCants as one of his better employees. “He’s here every day. He’s on time. He does what he’s asked,” LeBlanc said. “That’s basically all you can ask.”
McCants is also well trained, LeBlanc added. “He is definitely one that I wouldn’t be afraid of putting on anything we do. Marvin is one of the better ones in regards to both training and attitude.”
Now that McCants has completed his apprenticeship and is a mechanic, he has the ability to “be a foreman, to run his own jobs,” LeBlanc said.
That is McCants’ ambition, one that he now has the training to realize.
“I picked insulation, and it worked out for me,” said McCants, who has been a part of many exciting jobs throughout the past four years. When he worked on installing new eateries at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, McCants and his co-workers got to ride a truck on the runway to get to the work entrance. “Another time, I was on the roof of a building where I could see the New Orleans skyline and look at the roof of the Superdome,” McCants said. “I get to see a lot of places I otherwise wouldn’t go, and I take pride in saying I had a hand in building things.”
Article Courtesy of Construction Gumbo